Throughout the month of November, I want to take time to share about people or things I am grateful for over the past year. Previous entries: Jeremy Bouman, Public Libraries, Fuel Saver.

“How come you weren’t at my wedding?” I didn’t think Eric would notice. The fact he did notice made me smile, but then made me feel awful I wasn’t there. I had planned on being there, but the previous day I had driven fourteen hours. I wanted a day to rest and get better since many in my family were dealing with sickness. The rest was needed, but when I saw Eric for the first time after he was married…I wish I would’ve gone. Eric was more than a friend I began to realize that day.

Eric telling everyone about the day ahead as we get ready to leave for Missouri Valley, IA to help with flood relief efforts. (June 7, 2011)

 

Eric and I first met in 2011. He just showed up one day and started working at Christ Community Church. The first thing I can remember about him is being involved with a flood relief project in Missouri Valley, IA. He was helping coordinate CCC’s efforts to serve. Or, I assume he was coordinating because Eric always was the point person when it came to CCC’s local outreach and service efforts.

“You were a YWAM’er too?! Come on now!” I had a lot of bad memories from my time with Youth With A Mission. Eric had good memories from his time with YWAM. Despite our varying experiences we connected as missionaries with a ministry that is unique in culture and practice. We’d often say to one another “YWAM” when someone or something reminded us, good or bad, of Youth With A Mission. Sometimes, Eric would just randomly say “YWAM” and we’d laugh. We’d launch into stories from our time as missionaries. Trading war stories of a ministry that was counter to where we were working today. Over time, Eric helped me to remember the good with YWAM. Before we were friends, I didn’t like to acknowledge my time with YWAM. Now? I delve into it with people.

“Hey, can I talk to you for a minute?” I shared with coworkers my story of overcoming addiction in May 2011 at a staff meeting. I’m not sure Eric was at CCC yet, but word of my story spread quickly. In the subsequent weeks, months, and years, staff would approach me to talk about my story and/or something they were dealing with in their own life. Eric and I? We had numerous conversations about such topics. Just being real, talking freely. It could be at lunch. It could be in each other’s office. It was often as we walked around the second floor kids wing at CCC. It’s hard to find someone you can be honest and vulnerable with and not worry about it being used against you. An unshakeable bond developed.

“It wasn’t that good.” That was the initial feedback to Eric being on stage. Eric had delivered the service announcements for the first time. Unfortunately, this could be a nerve-wracking thing because if you didn’t deliver the script verbatim, and in a specific way, you’d get talked to…and not in an encouraging way. Eric wasn’t a part of this conversation when, in a meeting, we discussed the previous Sunday service. Going in front of over 2500 people to give announcements isn’t easy for many. Now, you have to deliver something in a way (wording or tone) you wouldn’t ordinarily. One thing for a white person at a white church. Another thing for a person of color at a predominantly white church. The spotlight was always on Eric in a way it wasn’t for most everyone else there. He was sometimes measured in unfair ways, whether people realized it or not.

People liked having Eric visible on stage because they thought it showed “diversity”, but this can be problematic as well. You did not want it to be tokenism, and as his friend I was concerned he was being used as a prop at times. Eric always rolled with it, though. It gave him opportunities to share about work he was doing in Omaha, and then get others connected to that work. Even when people confused him with the other African-American they’d see on stage from time to time, Josh Dotzler, he’d smile. “Hey Josh!” Oh, Eric would shake his head when called Josh, or at the ignorance he would hear when it came to race. However, he had the long game in mind. He knew most people meant well in spite of some of things he heard. Eric wasn’t always allowed to be Eric, but by the end of his time he was more so. At CCC, I think a number of white people’s opinions toward black people improved because of Eric and his work. It was the way he lived and loved, and the way he got them involved with black neighborhoods and communities. It wasn’t just to serve black people, it was to serve everyone. Serving the Church. Bringing people together, bringing our city together. Helping people to love their neighbor in a way they didn’t before. Eric had a higher standard to reach with some people, but he cleared it with ease.

Eric could naturally transition from white culture to black culture. (Part of this is due to survival. Black Americans are often forced to live in two worlds, the white world that is against them in a number of ways and the black world in which they can be themselves more freely.) From wealthy suburban situations to poverty situations to all points in between. From charismatic worship to a traditional liturgical service. It’d be hard to find a situation that would throw him off his game. Eric thrived.

I was grateful to talk with Eric about matters of race, social justice, the cycle of poverty, and more. White people often don’t engage in such topics with people of color because of how they might be perceived. I knew I could trust Eric as I processed with him these topics and more. I’m glad Eric listened to me, and answered my questions. There were plenty of times I probably sounded like an ignorant white person, but again I knew I could trust him. He believed the best about me. We kept the conversations going.

In 2011, I got involved with Partnership 4 Kids. I was able to serve at Franklin Elementary, which was a school I briefly attended as a child. Franklin Elementary resided in a part of Omaha we, CCC, were targeting to serve within. After a few times of going, I mentioned it to Eric and told him he should check it out. This was early on in our friendship, so I wasn’t sure what he would do. Eric jumped in feet first, and hasn’t looked back.

Eric and I had fun together with Partnership 4 Kids. We can be big kids, and we’d often make fools of ourselves to hype up the students. More so, we loved the people involved. We saw firsthand the grind the teachers and staff went through to educate and serve the students. We heard their stories, felt their exasperation at times, but also amazed at their hope in the face of sometimes difficult odds to serve Franklin Elementary students, families, and the surrounding community. It was beautiful to witness up close. We always did our best to be fully present, and give 100%, when we were at Franklin. Because everyone there (students, teachers, staff, families) deserved our best.

Because of his infectious personality, casting a vision, and job responsibilities, Eric was able to get numerous people involved and spearhead a number of projects that blessed the students, the teachers, the staff, and the families. It was awesome. Even better? Seeing how everyone at Franklin absolutely loved Eric. At the end of the day, everyone knew that. The partnership’s ongoing success is due to Eric’s tireless efforts and enthusiasm.

Part of the reason I enjoyed going to Franklin was Eric and I would often drive down together. There was some convenience with driving down together at first, but in the end I wanted more time to hang out. We’d get something to eat or drink, before or after, and just talk about anything and nothing. Over time, we’d start dreaming. “What could we really do to change and improve the lives of the students?” “Where do you see yourself in five years?” “What has God gifted you to do?” “What has God been doing in you lately?”

Meetings were always fun and/or memorable with Eric. It started back in 2013 when, for some reason, Eric and Craig Walter joined the weekly multisite lunch meetings. No one was ever quite sure what to do with Eric and Craig. They were a team unto themselves, and worked well that way. Combining them with another team always seemed forced, and hinder whatever work they were doing. It was in these meetings where Eric and I first learned the beginning of the end with CCC’s attempt with multisite (one church, meeting in two or more locations). In the aftermath, there was no attempt for self-reflection about multisite’s demise. Eric and I would discuss it though. As someone who was a part of the multisite team for a few years, I was grateful to have someone as a sounding board to process things. We still talk about the mood in the room when the info was dropped, and realized multisite was effectively over.

Of course, there were a number of meetings where we were counting the minutes till it ended. So we killed time by whispering one liners about whatever was being discussed, or talked straight about some tangential issue the meetings was supposed to be about.

Eric loved to eat, and I had a reputation of knowing when and were to look for leftovers around the church. How often a conversation between the two of us would simply start with, “Hey, I hear there are cookies/snacks/leftovers…” Say no more, because we are off and on the hunt. Usually yammering all the way. Sometimes, we’d pull up an old hip hop track to listen to as we walked around. Having fun as we rolled.

“Hey, do you got a few minutes? I need your help with something.” A few minutes were never a few minutes, but I didn’t care. My friend wanted help, but I also knew an adventure was usually about to begin.  Hauling grills or bikes across town? Loading a shipping container? Delivering toys? Handing out boxes of food to families in need? Meeting with someone Eric would be meeting with so I could bring another perspective on the prospective matter? I was often blessed by the time “working” with him.

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Lunch hour adventures with Eric. #CCCOmaha

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Of course, I could drag him into something as well. He’d be there for me. One time, the receptionist had a pastoral care situation. It wasn’t my time in the schedule, but we’re pastors! A Bible needed to be delivered to someone in north Omaha who had just called, could I deliver it? Sure thing. Asked Eric if his schedule allowed him to come along. He dropped what he was doing, and we headed off to someone we didn’t know to a destination we had never been to. When we arrived, we could tell the person had been living rough. Drug paraphernalia was around. The person we were there to visit and deliver the Bible? Grateful for Eric and I driving to them to meet, talk, and give them the Bible.

I say that not to brag, but to highlight Eric’s willingness to enter into the sometimes difficult and unknown with pastoral care. He isn’t afraid. He doesn’t think it is beneath him or his role. It was troubling to sometimes hear comments from church leaders, from pastors, who didn’t have time for pastoral care for a variety of reasons. Not with Eric. He loves people. He embraces everything that comes with what it means to be a pastor.

Eric asking why I wasn’t at his wedding hit home how he was more of a friend than I realized. Or, perhaps afraid to acknowledge before then. Male friendships can sometimes be tricky, even more so in the church, because of the masculine stereotypes involved. I had heard comments like “fag” or “gay”, from coworkers, when talking about how much I appreciated a male friend. You shake your head at it, but it also shows how far behind the Church is when it comes to male friendship. They like to talk up Men’s Ministry, but again it often falls back into stereotypes. POWER TOOLS! HUNTING! MEAT! Anything outside of that? “We don’t want them to think we’re/they’re ‘fruity’.” We, the white, evangelical American Church, don’t do well with nuance, especially in matters of friendship, masculinity, sexuality, and the intersection of all that.

Eric and I’s friendship took off for me once I understood, and acknowledged, it was more than just some casual acquaintance thing we had at work. It couldn’t have at a more critical time for me. The end of multisite, in the early part of 2014, was probably the beginning of the end for me at CCC. My last seven years on staff at CCC I had seven different bosses. My job responsibilities were fluid depending on the boss, the project, the time of the year, the team I was being transitioned to…for who knows how long. Toward the end, I often felt I was alone. I would try and explain my situation, but people didn’t understand or believe me. They weren’t hearing me. Their situation was good. Therefore, how could mine be bad? I would pray, “God, am I missing something?”

I’d think this, and more often than not Eric would appear soon after. Or, he might send me a text. “What are you doing right now?” He knew my schedule well, so he’d often time it right to come by my office. We would walk the halls of CCC. Walk the parking lot and trail near CCC. Drive to Westroads Mall and walk around there. We’d converse. Eric heard my struggles and frustrations. He believed. He’d pray for me, for my family. Sure, he’d press me at times with what I was sharing, but he didn’t doubt the reality I was going through.

I remember the day I decided to resign from CCC. I was driving around Omaha, a bit emotional, and Eric called. A leader at the church questioned my commitment to CCC. It had nothing to do with my work. It had nothing to do with how I interacted with people. Just a “feeling”. I had heard it before. “There’s a perception amongst some that you prioritize worshipping with your family (on Sunday mornings) over work.” Yes. Yes, I do. When I asked if I had missed anything with work they told me I hadn’t. I pressed more, but they didn’t want to go into it. These types of conversations happened every so often.

Twelve years. Twelve years of all kinds of work, through multiple bosses, campaigns, projects, initiatives, styles, teams, staff, and everything else. Twelve years through thick and thin. Sometimes doing the dirty work, the thankless work, the work some would skip out on. Doing your best to be a team player. When some people were drifting away from the church, you wanted to do your part to stay the course. See things through. Be a part of the solution. Offering ideas or critiques because you were committed and wanted the present and future to be good for all involved. You love the people. You love the Church.

It was never enough to some. Maybe I wasn’t committed by some other standard, and maybe I proved them right in the end with my resignation. Regardless, it was time. As friend and coworker Wendell Nelson told me months before, “Sometimes God has to push you out so you can see you are being pulled in another direction.”

Eric heard it all as I unloaded. He had heard it before, but this was raw and unadulterated. I started crying. He listened again. He supported me again. He was there for me again. Whatever happened, he let me know he would be there with me. Always. And he has been.

My last week at CCC, Eric checked up on me every day. My last day, he helped me move my belongings from the office to the car. I didn’t have to ask. He was there walking with me those final steps. We wondered what would be next for both of us. By this point, it was becoming clear Eric’s time at CCC was nearing an end as well. Nothing formal was in the works, but he sensed something on the horizon coming his way.

Throughout the first months of my sabbath, Eric kept reaching out. “Where are you at right now?” I’d be reading or writing somewhere in town, and Eric would hunt me down. Grateful as always. “What’s God telling you?” “What are you learning?” “How are you doing?” Sometimes, the questions would come rapid fire. We’d be eating at a place like Raising Cane’s, and I’d smile. Flying blind, at times, during this sabbath season, and here comes Eric. Our friendship became stronger.

You won’t find him on social media much, but Eric Carpenter is getting stuff done. We talk of reaching the city, reaching “millennials” (which is code for cool, hipster youth which makes us feel cool as a church), serving others, bringing about justice…Eric is doing that. I’m thinking that as I wonder what I am doing in my role, and what I might be doing. I see Eric and realize he is getting stuff done, quietly going about his business. (May 6, 2014 journal entry)

A number of people wondered if we’d work together in the future, perhaps plant a church together. We talked about it. We prayed about it. Soon after we started talking and praying, the opportunity with Citylight Kansas City came into view. We heard about it separately. When Eric first heard, he was ready to jump since he is from the KC area. When I first heard of it, I thought of Eric and how it would be a great opportunity for him.

I was sad. I knew our friendship would be changing. I had to check myself. This was about what God was going to do. It was about Eric and his family. It was about the numerous people who were about to be blessed because of Eric. Then, I was happy for him.

We talked about Kansas City, and the excitement oozed through his words and actions. I was excited for him. He had faithfully served for years. He worked in a way not to draw attention to himself. He was not trying to build his own kingdom, but rather God’s Kingdom. He loved people. He loved his family. His path to this point wasn’t the traditional path, but he was still being recognized and positioned to be a more visible leader in a church. I loved it.

People wonder why I’m not going with him. When I was a missionary, I was a part of a ministry team that traveled the country for two months comprised of friends. We didn’t think or pray through it much because we assumed our friendships would cause everything to work out. Quite the opposite. It was a disastrous two months that caused friendships to end. I love Eric too much to just assume it would work out. Our trajectory may be headed in different directions, but we’re not going to let it affect our friendship. Even if it means our friendship looks different, we’re still tight.

I miss our walks and talks, but I’m happy for him. I see on social media all that God is doing in and through him, and the rest of the Citylight KC team, and I smile. We call and text more. He’s checking up on me. He’s praying for me. Encouraging me. Speaking life and truth to me. And when our paths do cross? It’s on.

I wish everyone could have a friend like Eric.

Kansas City metro residents, do yourself a favor and visit Citylight Kansas City (web, Facebook, Instagram) some Sunday morning. It’s in the early stages of its church life, but you will be loved and blessed by the people. Especially Eric. How I am grateful for Eric.

One thought on “Gratefulness: Eric Carpenter

  1. Have I ever told you how much happiness I derive from your being a prolific Writer? Makes me feel a genetic contribution to your wonderfulness… M aka N (Makan) Sent from my iPad

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